Making the once known known again.
When I was a kid my grandmother was a sales rep for Princess House, a company that specialized in selling crystal. On Saturday afternoons she often hosted parties to sell items to her friends. I remember being rushed out of her living room on several occasions so my grandmother’s guests could swoon over plates, champagne flutes and figurines shaped like Eeyore. It was made clear early on that kids were not allowed within arm’s reach of anything made of crystal. Period. This was reiterated when I received an elephant shaped figurine as a gift, only to have it snatched from my hands and placed in a cabinet out of my reach. Crystal was just too beautiful and fragile to risk being broken.
In 1960, a girl group called The Crystals was formed and they, like my grandmother’s crystal, had an image that was too beautiful to be broken. Dressed in silk dresses and high heeled shoes, they represented society’s perception of femininity. Perhaps producer Phil Spector had this in mind when he had The Crystals record what is, in my opinion, the second most haunting song in pop music history.
“He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)” was written in 1962 by married songwriting partners Carole King and Gerry Goffin. King and Goffin discovered that their live-in babysitter, singer Little Eva, was being beaten by her boyfriend. When confronted about the abuse, Little Eva defended her boyfriend using the words that would become the song’s title.
Phil Spector gave the song to the Crystals, who were signed to his record label at the time. The group was fresh off the success of two radio hits, “There’s No Other (Like My Baby)” and “Uptown,” but “He Hit Me” would not have the same success. Banned by many radio stations amid complaints that it endorsed violence against women, Spector pulled the single just as it was beginning to chart.
The interesting thing about this song is that King and Goffin keep an objective stance throughout. When I first heard it, I was certain that by the end of the song the protagonist would leave her boyfriend. I thought that there was a blatant lesson I was supposed to learn by listening. I discovered I was wrong on both counts. The writers merely tell the story of a girl who is content in an abusive relationship. She doesn’t change her mind. She doesn’t think she deserves better. She is content. The way Spector arranged the song, it seems that her friends singing backup vocals are content with the abuse as well.
I chose this song to kick off PopExcavators because I like the approach that King, Goffin and Spector took. They simply presented the information. I believe that they wanted to affect change in their audience but they let their audience decide what that change was supposed to look like. I want to do the same thing with PopExcavators. You have the information. Let me know what change looks like to you.